Soldiers from 14 Partnership for Peace countries and three NATO nations joined forces in August 1995 at Fort Polk, La.'s Joint Readiness Training Center for Exercise Cooperative Nugget. The sixth such exercise in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, and the first on U.S. soil, Cooperative Nugget was designed to expose the countries' soldiers to interoperability issues at the company and platoon level. The exercise was scheduled by Supreme Allied Command, Atlantic, and hosted on behalf of the United States by the U.S. Atlantic Command.
The more than 4,000 soldiers participating in the exercise came from NATO members Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, and PFP members Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Many of the participating nations want to join NATO, which requires member nations to offer assistance when deemed necessary.
Six companies were set up for the exercise. Each had four platoons, each from a different country. The companies also included coalition support teams, or CSTs, composed primarily of special forces soldiers, to assist foreign soldiers and help ease language barriers. One company was commanded by a British officer, one by a Canadian officer, and four by U.S. officers.
The exercise started off with a week of situational training exercise lanes. Throughout the week, the soldiers learned and practiced manning observation posts and checkpoints, searching for and clearing mines, searching vehicles and people for contraband, weapons and bombs, protecting dignitaries and dealing with local populations. During the week, many of the former Eastern Bloc soldiers received a healthy dose of American-style tactics and techniques. Some were overwhelmed at first, especially when familiarized with U.S. movement techniques.
The differences between U.S. and Czech tactics were minor. Basically, they have the same techniques. All the basic tactics are the same, though a few of them have different ideas about it. Everybody understands the whole concept pretty well.
The CSTs facilitated that understanding. Populated with special forces linguists and active-duty and Reserve interpreters, the teams turned a potentially significant hurdle --- communication among all of the various countries' soldiers --- into a minor stumbling block. Many of the soldiers from the various countries had some working knowledge of English as well.
In fact, the biggest problem during the exercise seemed to be the 100-plus-degree heat and high humidity, which soldiers from Baltic countries weren't used to. Some of their comrades became heat casualties, especially during the second week's free-play field training exercise.
Many of the soldiers encountered a few other things that they weren't used to during the FTX, like trying to help and protect at-times unruly locals and refugees [see sidebar] while getting shot at by snipers and injured by car bombs. Czech Capt. Petr Miller wondered whether peacekeeping is much different from combat. Peacekeeping is sometimes worse than a real combat situation because you have to handle lots of people around you. "ou are here to establish security, not only for you, but also for civilians and refugees, for everybody who is a participant in this area.
A relentless guerilla force, played by Fort Polk's 509th Infantry, and hundreds of role-players did their best to cause such confusion. While the bad guys were setting off a car bomb in one location and sniping at local civilians and peacekeeping soldiers in another, refugees were storming a building that housed food and water. The soldiers learned they have to treat such incidents carefully. They were watched, not only by JRTC's observer-controllers, but also by United Nations observers, adding another piece of realism to the exercise.
The way the scenario is set up here is very realistic. THE small island of Aragon is part Hollywood and part Bosnia-Herzegovina. Actors roam the streets, demanding food, water and safe passage while snipers slink around shooting soldiers and civilians at will. Car bombs explode at the most inopportune times. NATO and Partnership for Peace soldiers traveled to Aragon, the fictional island at Fort Polk, La.'s Joint Readiness Training Center, to learn about keeping the peace in a war-torn country.
The role-players who inhabit Aragon make the training as realistic as possible. They can be helpful, mean, innocent or downright devilish. Sometimes their demeanor depends on the part they're told to play. Sometimes, it depends on how they are treated by the soldiers involved in the exercise.
The role-players are a mix of civilians hired by contractor BDM Corp., and soldiers from Fort Polk on special duty. The civilians pull eight-to-12-hour shifts, and the soldiers stay in the maneuver box at all times during the exercise. The role-players are briefed on what they can and can't do in conjunction with their roles. They are told that they must stay in character at all times. They also learn about the island's geography, as well as its history, which dates back to 1499 when it was discovered by Columbus. A few of the contract role-players are married to soldiers in real life.
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